Bengaluru: Violent protests erupted in Kerala on Thursday, with people pelting stones and blocking vehicles following the entry of two women of menstrual age into the Sabarimala temple on Wednesday. The violence gave an indication of the form the protests might take in an election year in Kerala.
Sabarimala row: CPM on the back foot as violent protests erupt
The protests were a part of a dawn-to-dusk hartal called by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Sangh Parivar outfits, including Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organization of various pro-Hindutva groups.
A 55-year-old man, Chandran Unnithan, who had participated in a spontaneous protest after the news of the women entering the shrine broke in Pathanamthitta’s Pandalam, died late on Wednesday night. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Unnithan died of a heart attack, but a post-mortem report said he may have died from head injuries, according to local reports.
A 64-year-old woman, Pathumma from Wayanad who came for treatment at the Regional Cancer Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, collapsed and died at the railway station in the morning. Her relatives alleged that a delay in getting ambulance service resulted in her death.
Attacks were reported against shops, passengers and travellers in districts such as Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram, apart from the nerve centre of the Sabarimala protests, Pathanamthitta.
About 75 state-run buses were damaged, while 31 police officers and some women mediapersons were attacked during the protests.
Police arrested 745 people and took 628 others into custody for disrupting public order and engaging in violence, reported local news channel Manorama News. Three BJP workers were stabbed in a clash while trying to enforce the hartal in Thrissur district, and a Left activist was injured in an explosion in Thiruvananthapuram, according to local reports. A country bomb was reportedly hurled at a police station in Thiruvananthapuram, but nobody was injured.
The state is set to witness the BJP aggressively playing out an aggrieved Hindutva card to hit out at the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM-led Left Democratic Front.
However, the strategy runs the risk of inviting the wrath of a significant section of the public, including the dominant group of traders who have already taken a position against any more protests, and a section of the middle class.
“Every month, the temple will reopen for monthly rituals. We plan to hold such aggressive protests on those occasions,” said a top BJP leader who did not want to named.
“This is a cooked up case. The judgement has been flawed, the government need not have hurried to implement the order. Hundreds of BJP workers from all southern districts will storm Kerala against what the Left has done in the coming days,” the BJP leader said.
The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) also joined the protesters in some parts, observing a “black day”. Various universities, including Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi, Calicut and Kannur postponed examinations scheduled for Thursday.
The offices of the CPM and its ally the Communist Party of India, police officers and journalists were at the receiving end of targeted attacks by the protesters. A library managed by the Left in Palakkad was vandalized by protesters. Following these events, Left activists hit the streets in the evening, pelting right-wing protesters with stones.
“This is clear intervention based on political motives. We can only handle this in one way, by resisting it strongly. No amount of violence will be tolerated,” Vijayan told a press conference.
The local media boycotted state BJP president B. Sreedharan Pillai’s press meet in protest against attacks on the journalists.
Several merchants defied the hartal call and opened shops in SM Street, a major traders’ hub in Kozhikode district, as well as in Kochi and Kollam districts under police security. The merchants’ organisations had said they would not extend support to the hartal and keep shops and business establishments open, as this was the seventh hartal in three months called by the BJP on the Sabarimala row.
However, hartal supporters forced shops to shut in several districts, leading to major scuffles between traders, the protestors and the police. In Edappal, Malappuram district, a bike rally of hartal supporters had to face public wrath and flee from the scene, leaving their bikes behind.